By STEPHANIE ADAMS
After years of work and advocacy on the need to fix and fund our parks and open spaces, the finish line is near on The Great American Outdoor Act, which will benefit national parks and public lands across the country.
The pathway to progress within Montana has long been paved by members on both sides of the political aisle, including Max Baucus and Conrad Burns.
Today, thanks to the leadership of our congressional park champions and years of work before them, we are now closer than ever before to making long lasting positive impact for our parks.
The Great American Outdoors Act would provide funding to repair aging infrastructure in America’s more than 400 national park sites, dedicating up to $6.5 billion to infrastructure repairs over five years. This legislation would address the highest priority repair needs at parks across the country and would generate tens of thousands of infrastructure-related jobs. Additionally, the bill would provide $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect land in our national parks and other public lands from development and to support recreational
For far too long, the National Park Service has operated on a shoestring budget while also in recent years dealing with decreases in staffing on top of record-setting visitation. At the same time, the park system’s maintenance backlog has steadily increased to its an all-time high of more than $12 billion in needed repairs to crumbling roads, trails, restrooms, visitor centers and other infrastructure.
In Montana alone, national parks are facing more than $187 million in needed repairs to crumbling trails, roads and buildings from Yellowstone and Glacier to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Sadly, critical repairs in Yellowstone and parks across the country have been put on the backburner for decades, and now our parks are reaching a breaking point. While rangers and other park staff do their best to duct tape park infrastructure together, it’s ultimately up to Congress to finish the job in making funding our parks and open spaces a priority.
At the same time park infrastructure is deteriorating, our public lands are being threatened by incompatible development projects that would undermine Montana’s longstanding conservation legacy. The Great American Outdoors Act would prevent future development within the boundaries of our parks and public lands, permanently protecting the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources these places protect.
For more than 50 years, LWCF has supported public access and enhanced public lands, contributing to our state’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy, which supports more than 60,000 made-in-Montana jobs. Here in Montana, LWCF has served to protect key habitat adjacent to Glacier National Park and could help to protect lands at Big Hole Battlefield in the future as well as additional local trails and recreational facilities.
Given the number infrastructure projects needed in our parks and public lands, this legislation would be a win-win for our public lands, their staff and visitors and local economies across the
country. This legislation would address the highest priority repair needs at units across the park system and would generate tens of thousands of infrastructure-related jobs.
As our country continues to deal and recover from an ongoing health pandemic, our parks and gateway communities are suffering through hard times. The thousands of shovel-ready projects generated from this bill would provide jobs and bring much-needed relief to local economies.
Our national parks are powerful places that unite and inspire us. Even during divisive political times, our park and public lands bring people from across the nation and across the aisle together.
This bipartisan legislation is no different.
Providing long-term funding to conserve our parks, public lands and open spacers today will allow our children and grandchildren to benefit from these investments for years to come. It is time for Rep. Gianforte and members of Congress to work together to take this critical legislation over the finish line and protect America’s legacy.
Stephanie Adams is the Northern Rockies associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 6/27/20